EDUCATION At History Day 2005, students take unique look back

The event started in 1974 in Cleveland. The projects interpret events of the past.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Some people may look at history class as a blur of names and dates, but about 300 area students look at the subject in a different way.
In regional competition Saturday during History Day 2005 at Youngstown State University, they used museum-style exhibits, papers, documentaries and original performances to interpret events of the past.
History Day is an annual event that began at Cleveland's Case Western Reserve University in 1974 and moved to the national level in 1980. Each year, students use a pre-assigned theme to do original projects. This year's theme is "Communication in History: The Key to Understanding."
Among the exhibits at YSU: "Ronald Reagan: The Great Communicator," featuring red, white and blue matted photographs of the 40th president at various stages in his life, books about Reagan and even a talking action figure. Another exhibit featured information on the life and work of Helen Keller.
Judges walked through the exhibits, stopping to ask questions of each individual or group. Jessica Day, a student at Hubbard High School, stood by her stucco-finished display and answered questions about "Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphics."
"The whole focus," she told the judges, "is the way Egyptians communicated."
Day pointed out symbols and explained their meanings to the judges. She won second place in her division.
What the students do in the competition is more than memorizing a chronology of dates, said Dr. Martha Pallante, chairman of YSU's history department.
"History teaches a student to read critically, examine documents, analyze diverse material and learn problem-solving," Pallante said. "Whether or not you like history, these are very important skills."
Historians are really "detectives about the past," Pallante said. A solid background in history prepares a student to do "anything where they're required to think."
Sara Schaeffer, a YSU sophomore majoring in physics, was a volunteer at Saturday's competition. As a student at Girard Middle School, she participated in three History Day competitions, advancing to the national level one year.
"I learned how to do research," she said. "It really helped me because now I realize that a lot of people I know here don't know how to do research."

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